REVIEWS

ROBBEN FORD

ROBBEN FORD Bringing It Back Home [Provogue] The title suggests that sometime during his four-decade career, Robben Ford abandoned the blues, but that’s not true. Even while immersed in jazz—he played with Miles Davis and was a member of the Yellowjackets—the gifted guitarist never completely strayed from the genre. Still, this is his most blues-saturated record in some time. Whether turning to established songsmiths (Earl King, Allen Toussaint)... 

ALICE IN CHAINS

ALICE IN CHAINS The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here [emi] “Hollow,” the opening track on AIC’s fifth album, is a fitting title for a band that conveys emptiness like no other. Though half the original lineup has succumbed to a shared demon—substance abuse—the enduring Seattle grunge group retains its distinctive sound. It’s almost as if late frontman Layne Staley has returned for the infectiously kinetic “Stone” and the title track’s foreboding... 

ICEAGE

ICEAGE You’re Nothing [Matador] Barely into their 20s, the four Danish punks behind Iceage have already figured out what a cruel, alienating place the world can be. They radiate rage, but fortunately, they’ve found no shortage of ways to unburden themselves. On the follow-up to their stunning 2011 debut, New Brigade, the band once again smashes and refashions post-punk hallmarks, using the terse sounds of Gang of Four and Wire as rough templates... 

EMMYLOU HARRIS & RODNEY CROWELL

EMMYLOU HARRIS & RODNEY CROWELL  Old Yellow Moon  [Nonesuch] Thankfully, the second posthumous Winehouse release isn’t filled with scraps that didn’t make last year’s Lioness. Drawn from BBC appearances, it reminds listeners what a charismatic vocalist Winehouse was. The early material, recorded circa 2004’s Frank album, showcases Winehouse’s jazz roots, pairing her sultry, scat-like singing with big band arrangements. The handful... 

JOHNNY MARR

JOHNNY MARR The Messenger [Sire] Since leaving the Smiths in 1987, guitarist Johnny Marr has made a career of playing nice with others. He’s guested with such heavies as Talking Heads and Pet Shop Boys and even served stints with relative whippersnappers Modest Mouse and the Cribs. Through it all, he’s seemingly made a conscious effort to avoid his signature sound—that rolling, bittersweet jangle that defined not only the Smiths, but also indie... 

BUCKCHERRY

BUCKCHERRY  Confessions [Century Media] On Buckcherry’s sixth album, frontman Josh Todd reveals—but doesn’t necessarily repent for—his forays into the seven deadly sins. The tattoo-laden rocker is well qualified for such narratives. Through hard-hitting guitar, trenchant vocals and sleazy lyrics, he gives depravity a sonic correlative, presenting various forms of vice as a kind of musical slideshow. Opener “Gluttony” sets the template,... 

10CC

10CC In Concert  [Wienerworld] They’re usually described as “art-rock,” or some variation of that term, but more than anything, 10cc was a smart English pop band. After releasing a handful of well-crafted, durable AM radio hits and deceptively sophisticated albums in the ’70s, they said their goodbyes in the early ’80s. While the original quartet—Graham Gouldman, Kevin Godley, Eric Stewart and Lol Creme—reunited in 1991 for one album,... 

JOE LOVANO

JOE LOVANO Cross Culture [Blue Note] Over the course of his 22 previous Blue Note albums, Joe Lovano has proven one of the most versatile musicians in contemporary jazz. The formation of Us Five has invigorated the saxophonist and composer, and the quintet’s third album is astoundingly moving. Accompanied by his regulars—pianist James Weidman, bassist Esperanza Spalding and drummers Otis Brown III and Francisco Mela—as well as bassist Peter... 

NICK CAVE & THE BAD SEEDS

NICK CAVE & THE BAD SEEDS Push the Sky Away [Bad Seed] Though he’s demonstrated a penchant for sonic mayhem over the years, Nick Cave is often at his most unsettling when he turns down the volume. In fact, some of the songs are downright menacing on his latest with the Bad Seeds, their first new album since 2008’s Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! These nine new tunes simmer darkly, as spacious minor-key arrangements flow around Cave’s smooth, foreboding... 

DUANE ALLMAN

DUANE ALLMAN Skydog: The Duane Allman Retrospective  [Rounder] Just how prolific was Duane Allman in his few years? Amazingly so. From the time he first recorded and performed publicly in the mid-’60s until his death in 1971 at the age of 24, Duane—older than brother Gregg by a year—was one busy fellow. Attempts have been made through the years to chronicle the work of “Skydog,” as he was called, both within and outside of the Allman Brothers... 

BLACK REBEL MOTORCYCLE CLUB

BLACK REBEL MOTORCYCLE CLUB Specter at the Feast [Vagrant] Inspired by the popularity of his old-timey sets on his last tour, Andrew Bird returns less than a year after his last record, Break It Yourself. For this eight-song companion piece, the violinist and his band recorded in a barn around a single microphone. The approach was old fashioned, but the song selection was anything but. On the lone traditional tune, “Railroad Bill,” Bird’s jaunty... 

CAMPER VAN BEETHOVEN

CAMPER VAN BEETHOVEN La Costa Perdida [429] It’s not really a surprise Camper Van Beethoven’s first new album in nine years is full of quirky sounds and whimsical, borderline satirical lyrics. Effectively the mischievous older sibling of founding frontman David Lowrey’s other famous band, Cracker, CVB sounds as if they never went on hiatus. Following in the lyrical footsteps of its best-known songs—”Where the Hell Is Bill?” and “Take... 

KELLY WILLIS & BRUCE ROBISON

KELLY WILLIS & BRUCE ROBISON Cheater’s Game [Premium] Willis and Robison may be new duet partners, but they have no less chemistry than country music’s classic pairs Johnny and June and Dolly and Porter. The husband-and-wife duo’s first album features seven stellar tunes written or co-written by Robison and a half-dozen by Dave Alvin, Razzy Bailey and Hayes Carll. As Robison’s loping Texas singer-songwriter sound combines with Willis’... 

DALE WATSON

DALE WATSON El Rancho Azul [Red House] Texas troubadour Dale Watson is a master storyteller who navigates his own plot twists with offhanded ease. He’s equally capable of wise-guy attitude and wistful nostalgia, and his generous spirit shines through on this, a set of hardcore honky-tonk spiked with traditional Western swing and Bakersfield country. This is Watson’s first recording with regular touring band the Lone Stars, whose rowdy twang is... 

DROPKICK MURPHYS

DROPKICK MURPHYS Signed and Sealed in Blood [Domino] If the title of Dropkick’s last album, Going Out in Style, hinted that the Boston Celtic-punk band’s career was over, this one’s rousing opener, “The Boys Are Back,” sets the record straight. It’s a foot-stomping rallying cry, cut with whirring bagpipes. Whereas Out in Style centered on a fictional character, Signed and Sealed finds the septet telling personal tales wrapped in frenzied... 

Atoms for peace

ATOMS FOR PEACE Amok [xl] When Thom Yorke needed musicians to back him on a 2009 solo tour, the Radiohead frontman laid the foundation for one of the more puzzling supergroups in recent memory. Among those he enlisted was Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea, a perpetually shirtless slap-and-pop funkateer whose people-pleasing main band couldn’t differ more from Yorke’s. The other members—producer Nigel Godrich (Radiohead, Paul McCartney), drummer... 

THE JOY FORMIDABBLE

THE JOY FORMIDABBLE Wolf’s Law [Atlantic]  The sophomore effort from these Welsh alt-rockers offers guitars that crunch at heavy metal levels and vocals that soothe to the point of hypnosis. Mega distortion gives way to dreamy interludes and ethereal harmony, and frontwoman Ritzy Bryan’s voice conjures the drama and enchantment of Cranberries singer Dolores O’Riordan. On such tracks as “Tendons,” guttural bass lines drop to the depths of... 

CARRIE RODRIGUEZ

CARRIE RODRIGUEZ Give Me All You Got [Ninth Street Opus] A classically trained violinist, Carrie Rodriguez possesses firm command over another instrument: a sultry, Texas-cured soprano voice. Her engaging vocal style is best served without garish musical adornments or modern studio tricks, and on her fifth album, she smartly plays to her strengths, laying out a generous spread of mostly quiet acoustic songs. The simple restraint exercised by Rodriguez... 

KID ROCK

KID ROCK Rebel Soul [Atlantic] On his ninth studio album, Kid Rock lightens up. He’s never exactly been a brooding singer-songwriter, but after stepping up his game with 2010’s Rick Rubin-produced Born Free and dabbling in politics during last year’s Mitt Romney campaign, he seems ready to fling off the fedora and let his hair down. He leads listeners right into the party with “Chickens in the Pen,” a solid Southern rock foot-stomper. He’s... 

RICHARD THOMPSON

RICHARD THOMPSON Electric [New West]  Recorded in a few days at producer Buddy Miller’s Nashville home, Electric sounds more live than Thompson’s Dream Attic(2010), an actual live album. Perhaps it’s because he didn’t overdo it in the studio. Thompson has said that he and his trio banged out the recording with minimal fuss, and the lack of embellishment does these songs good. Fortunately, austerity doesn’t come at the price of substance,... 

GREEN DAY

GREEN DAY ¡Tré!  [Warner Bros.]  After diving into political and social commentary with concept albums in 2004 and 2009, Green Day lightened the mood in 2012 with a trilogy of less weighty records, released a few months apart. ¡Tré! wraps the triptych in characteristic fashion: There are no grand philosophical statements or particular points of view, just punchy pop songs that echo elements of the band’s career to now. “Missing You,” “Amanda”... 

RA RA RIOT

RA RA RIOT Beta Love [Barsuk] Beta Love is an eccentric marriage of styles coexisting harmoniously, against the odds. This Syracuse quartet has moved from broody indie chamber-pop toward vibrant synth-pop, and the jolt that comes from the opening notes signifies more than just the newfound prominence of keyboards: It’s a complete reevaluation of their songwriting. This restructuring could be attributed to the departure of cellist Alexandra Lawn... 

WANDA JACKSON

WANDA JACKSON  Unfinished Business [Sugar Hill] At 75, Wanda Jackson has nothing left to prove. Since emerging in the ’50s as a female Elvis, she’s weathered fallow periods, but the Queen of Rockabilly has never really disappeared. In 2009, she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and two years later, Jack White stepped up to produce The Party Ain’t Over, a problematic album that said as much about White’s ambitions as it did... 

MILES DAVIS QUINTET

MILES DAVIS QUINTET Live in Europe 1969: The Bootleg Series Vol. 2  [Columbia/Legacy] What a difference a couple of years makes.  The Miles Davis Quintet documented on the first volume of this series—recorded in 1967 in various European locales—was, by many accounts, the quintessential Miles Davis outfit, as well as one of the most incendiary and innovative jazz ensembles ever. With Wayne Shorter on saxophone, Herbie Hancock on keyboards, Ron... 

CHIEF KEEF

CHIEF KEEF Finally Rich [Interscope] Taken out of context, the songs on Chief Keef’s big-league debut aren’t terribly remarkable. The Chicago rapper slurs his way through slang-heavy lines about liquor, drugs, money, guns, jewelry, foreign cars and occasionally the validation and security that come with success. He’s blunt and boastful, an unrepentant gangsta who found internet fame while under house arrest. The interesting thing: Keef is just... 

SCOTT WALKER

SCOTT  WALKER Bish Bosch [4AD] Scott Walker’s output has been sporadic over the last 30 years, but he always makes the music of nightmares. On his first album since 2006, he interrupts stretches of silence with disjointed moments of off-kilter musicality. Bish Bosch is full of mechanical sounds—from the industrial hammering intro of the opening track to guitars that sound like television static and the repeated motif of sharpening knives. Hitchcockian... 

GRAHAM PARKER AND THE RUMOUR

GRAHAM PARKER AND THE RUMOUR Three Chords Good [Primary Wave] Reunion albums naturally make listeners nervous. A record might be good, or it might be embarrassingly lame. Or it might be Three Chords Good, the first new record by Graham Parker and the Rumour in more than 30 years. Rich and exciting, it sounds at first like a long-lost gem. Then the words sink in. While the venom of Parker’s punky New Wave-era work hasn’t disappeared, it’s tempered... 

RAVI SHANKAR

RAVI SHANKAR Tenth Decade: Live in Escondido [East Meets West] In light of Shankar’s death on  Dec. 11, 2012, Tenth Decade will likely stand as the final major release from an iconic musician who bridged East and West like no other. Filmed at the California Center for the Arts in Escondido, Calif., in October 2011, the nearly 90-minute performance finds the master sitar player—91 at the time, sporting a full gray beard and using a cane as he... 

EL PERRO DEL MAR

EL PERRO DEL MAR Pale Fire [The Control Group] Sarah Assbring, the Swedish artist behind El Perro del Mar, continues to evolve her sound, and after beginning the move away from acoustic arrangements on her last album, she completes the shift to electronica on her fourth full-length. Though synthesizers aren’t new to El Perro del Mar’s catalog, the sound of Pale Fire is more obviously electronic, as heard in the intentionally programmed sound of... 

CHRIS STAMEY

CHRIS STAMEY Lovesick Blues [Yep Roc] Having spent much of his career in the producer’s chair, Chris Stamey fittingly applies lessons learned behind the scenes to this, his first solo album in seven years. Following a recent reunion with his seminal power-pop band the dB’s, Stamey ups the musical ante on Lovesick Blues. The album is lushly arranged and brimming with emotion, and Stamey adds a personal perspective to the radiant pop approach that’s... 

FREE ENERGY

FREE ENERGY Love Sign [Free Energy Records] These Philadelphia rockers started strong on their 2010 debut, a ridiculously catchy collection of power-pop riffs, handclaps and harmony vocals. They’ve only gotten better on the follow-up, a joyous set of songs about dancing all night and making out. It sounds simplistic, but there’s greater nuance on Love Sign. With help from producer John Agnello, the band toys with slower jams and makes room for... 

CLINIC

CLINIC Free Reign [Domino] On their self-produced seventh album, these Leeds art-rockers trade intensity for laser-like focus. Something intangible pushes the songs forward, despite seemingly loose constructions. While Free Reign marks the return of Clinic’s trademark fuzzy guitars—lacking on their previous album, the mostly acoustic Bubblegum—the sound is less bristly than on earlier efforts. It’s also more psychedelic, with vintage organs... 

ALICIA KEYS

ALICIA KEYS Girl on Fire [RCA] Some combination of talent and luck—the former outweighing the latter—gave Alicia Keys one of the biggest debuts of the ’00s. Songs in A Minor (2001) was a hit with hip-hop fans, housewives and just about everyone in between, and in the decade since, the R&B songstress has continually shown her savvy and taste. She’s built a career that lets her cruise the middle of the road without becoming middle of the... 

TITUS ANDRONICUS

TITUS ANDRONICUS Local Business [XL] Somehow, Titus Andronicus stitched together a punk concept album about the Civil War and New Jersey on 2010’s brilliant The Monitor. The Garden State rockers take a less narrative approach on their latest, an autobiographical unburdening by frontman Patrick Stickles. He details an inadvertent electrocution on the jaunty sing-along “(I Am the) Electric Man,” a short stint living in New York City on the terse... 

COHEED AND CAMBRIA

COHEED AND CAMBRIA The Afterman: Ascension [Hundred Handed/Everything Evil] Products of the early-’00s emo boom, Coheed and Cambria distinguished themselves with an evolved, complex punk sound, basing all of their albums around a continuing fantasy storyline, The Amory Wars. Their sixth album, The Afterman: Ascension, continues the epic tale with all of the pageantry one would expect. At times mathematical, Coheed’s song structures display a... 

MADNESS

MADNESS Oui Oui, Si Si, Ja Ja, Da Da [Cooking Vinyl] In the late ’70s and early ’80s, Madness scored a Beatlesque run of U.K. hits, and for good reason: a Beatlesque way with melody. Initially affiliated with the 2 Tone ska movement, the septet put Jamaican bounce behind quintessentially British songs, sidestepping the political sloganeering of their post-punk peers to paint nuanced portraits of everyday London life. Their fourth album since... 

JAMEY JOHNSON

JAMEY JOHNSON Living for a Song: A Tribute to Hank Cochran [Mercury] It’s fitting that Jamey Johnson, perhaps the best songwriter on the country scene, chose to honor one of the greatest and most prolific songwriters of all time. During his half-century in Nashville, Hank Cochran, who died in 2010, created a body of work so rich that this could have easily been a three-disc set. Instead, Johnson intersperses Cochran’s most famous songs, such... 

AMY WINEHOUSE

AMY WINEHOUSE At the BBC  [Universal Republic] Thankfully, the second posthumous Winehouse release isn’t filled with scraps that didn’t make last year’s Lioness. Drawn from BBC appearances, it reminds listeners what a charismatic vocalist Winehouse was. The early material, recorded circa 2004’s Frank album, showcases Winehouse’s jazz roots, pairing her sultry, scat-like singing with big band arrangements. The handful of tracks from her... 

BUDDY MILLER AND JIM LAUDERDALE

BUDDY MILLER AND JIM LAUDERDALE Buddy and Jim [New West] The two brightest stars in Americana have found success with solo albums and written gems for giants like George Strait and the Dixie Chicks. They’ve also scored with collaborative efforts: Miller has played with Emmylou Harris and Robert Plant’s Band of Joy, while Lauderdale has recorded with Ralph Stanley and toured with Elvis Costello. This team-up album has been a long time coming. Comprising... 

CRYSTAL CASTLES

CRYSTAL CASTLES  III [Casablanca] On the third album by this frequently terrifying Toronto duo, all of the elements needed to make euphoric dance music are present but just out of reach. Producer Ethan Kath and singer Alice Glass are handy with the celestial synth tones and four-to-the-floor beats, but rather than party like it’s the end of the world, these electro-goth freakniks anticipate the actual coming of the apocalypse. Apparently recorded... 

DAVID MENCONI

DAVID MENCONI Ryan Adams: Losering, A Story of Whiskeytown  [University of Texas Press] Ryan Adams is one of the more complex characters in music. He’s a gifted and restless songwriter at home in a variety of styles, from wrenching country ballads to bombastic heavy metal. Cocky one minute, startlingly insecure the next, he’s a fascinating, polarizing figure who has at times become a rock ’n’ roll caricature. Music critic David Menconi... 

AARON LEWIS

AARON LEWIS The Road [Blaster] Old-school country fans unimpressed by the modern state of the genre need only look to this, the sophomore country album by Staind frontman Aaron Lewis, for solace. Sure, Lewis was raised in Massachusetts, but thanks to his country-loving grandfather, he absorbed the sounds of the greats. And although he made his name with hard rock, his success in that arena has as much to do with his emotive storytelling as it does... 

DEFTONES

DEFTONES Koi No Yokan [Reprise] Despite a good deal of drama—most notably bassist Chi Cheng’s near-fatal 2008 car wreck—the Deftones retained the distinctive alt-metal sound it forged in the early ’90s. Keeping its collective foot on the distortion pedal, the band’s seventh full-length album, Koi No Yokan, provides moments that range from hauntingly tender to downright punishing. Tracks such as “Leathers” feature slow, ominous intros... 

Color Me Obsessed

Color Me Obsessed:  A Film About the Replacements   [MVD Visual] A rock documentary with almost no music—and not a lick by the film’s subjects—Color Me Obsessed is the visual document the Replacements deserve. Brilliant one minute, awful the next, and doomed to fail, if their story can really be seen as a failure, the Minneapolis foursome is among the most mythologized bands of the last 30 years. As Goo Goo Dolls singer John Rzeznik says,... 

ANDREW BIRD

ANDREW BIRD Hands of Glory [Mom & Pop] Inspired by the popularity of his old-timey sets on his last tour, Andrew Bird returns less than a year after his last record, Break It Yourself. For this eight-song companion piece, the violinist and his band recorded in a barn around a single microphone. The approach was old fashioned, but the song selection was anything but. On the lone traditional tune, “Railroad Bill,” Bird’s jaunty fiddling and... 

HOW TO DESTROY ANGELS

HOW TO DESTROY ANGELS An Omen [Columbia] Nine Inch Nails mastermind Trent Reznor continues to play mad chemist with industrial music, this time via a side project featuring his wife, Mariqueen Maandig. Her soothing voice lends a twisted effect to this EP. The largely acoustic “Ice Age” is oddly folksy, and for a six-song set, An Omen boasts a wide emotional spectrum. There are periods of tranquility that give way to invocations of disaster—something... 

SETH GLIER

SETH GLIER Things I Should Let You Know [MPress] With his polished tenor vocals and natural affinity for creating shimmering, seductive melodies, singer-songwriter Seth Glier knows how to sway the sentiments of his listeners. Here, the album title alone is enough to catch one’s attention, but it’s Glier’s precise phrasing and subtle touches that make for an engaging start-to-finish listen. Whether he’s singing solitary ballads like “Everything... 

JOHN TRAVOLTA & OLIVIA NEWTON-JOHN

JOHN TRAVOLTA & OLIVIA NEWTON-JOHN This Christmas [UMG] In 1978, Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta were that too-cute couple from the blockbuster film Grease, not to mention its smash single “You’re the One That I Want.” Nearly 35 years later, they’re back with This Christmas, a 13-track collection of holiday faves that features such special guests as Tony Bennett (“Winter Wonderland”), Barbra Streisand (“I’ll Be Home for Christmas”)... 

GREEN DAY

GREEN DAY ¡Uno!  [Reprise] Fourth act, same as the first: That’s the story Green Day aims to tell with ¡Uno!, the first installment in a trilogy of albums they’ll roll out over the next few months. Having played alt-rock heroes in the post-Cobain ’90s and unlikely political rock-opera dramatists in the Bush ’00s, the trio inches back toward its punk roots, crafting restless power-pop tunes that—modern studio sheen notwithstanding—might... 

DIANA KRALL

DIANA KRALL Glad Rag Doll [Verve] Earlier this year, Diana Krall collaborated with Paul McCartney on Kisses on the Bottom, his tribute to pre-rock standards. She displayed an undeniable affinity for the songcraft of that earlier, simpler time, so it’s not surprising that she covers similar ground here. What is surprising: her adventurous approach. With T Bone Burnett producing and a guitar-heavy band behind her, Krall digs into the core of each... 
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